When Todd Houseman became Northwestern baseball coach in 2014, he wanted to build up the program after several middling seasons. But he knew that wouldn’t happen without the players making a stronger commitment to the sport.
He began preaching the importance of travel baseball, which lasts through the summer and beyond but is a surefire way to improve.
“At the time, we were still Division II. We were playing against the Shawnees, Indian Lakes and Kenton Ridges that have successful programs and a lot of kids playing travel baseball. You can’t compete,” Houseman said.
His message, though, is finally hitting home. Nine of 13 varsity players and several more reserves have made that offseason commitment.
In his first year, only five of 30 players in the program were on travel teams.
“It’s totally changed,” Houseman said. “They’re playing baseball all summer long. They’re playing all over the place. And they LIKE baseball.
“Ask any coaches in the county who have successful programs: If you’ve got a kid who’s playing travel baseball, it makes your job easier because they’re ready.”
No longer overmatched in the Central Buckeye Conference, the Warriors’ win total in the league has gone from from two to six to eight in Houseman’s three seasons. And they finished tied for second in the Mad River Division and reached the D-III sectional finals last season.
“I’ve got a bunch of good kids. I’ve got a bunch of good parents. It’s really fun right now,” he said.
Houseman, a 1983 Northwestern grad and a former three-sport athlete, may have his best team yet with seven solid returnees, including all of his primary pitchers.
Gage Voorhees went 5-3 last season with a 1.84 ERA. He also played second base and batted .300.
Christian Highfield is the No. 2 starter and went 4-3 with a 2.16 ERA. He also is an outfielder and batted .415 with 31 RBIs in 27 games.
Lefty first baseman Evan Crew, shortstop Spencer Rinaldi and designated-hitter Jake Parks also can pitch. Other returning starters include outfielder Tanner White and catcher Derek Whip.
But Highfield and Voorhees are the only current players to bat .300 or higher last year, and Houseman says the Warriors need to improve on their .296 team average.
“With our pitching and defense, we should be able to compete real well. We just have to hit the ball better than we did last year,” he said.
Coaching veterans: The Warriors’ staff has an abundance of experience. Assistant principal Brad Beals, who had a successful run as NW coach before going into administration, is working with the team again. And Houseman’s 74-year-old father, Jim, is an assistant, too.
“Dad is a good baseball guy,” Houseman said. “He basically coached me the whole time growing up. He was a very good high school player. The kids all call him Grandpa.”
The elder Houseman graduated from Northwestern in 1960.
Close call: The Warriors, who went 15-12 last season, had a tight game in the sectional final, losing to Carlisle, 2-0. But Gage went the distance and allowed only four hits. He was named first team All-CBC.
They faced Bellbrook in their first game Saturday and will host Southeastern at 5:30 Monday in their home opener.
Staying busy: Houseman is an account representative for East Penn Manufacturing. The company is based in Pennsylvania and is the second-largest battery maker in the world.